Tess Lynch is a writer and actor living in Los Angeles
Last night I went to Gelson’s; nothing extraordinary about that. It was about ten and I was in the market for some Cokes and guacamole, so I parked my car in the almost-deserted lot and made my way to the door. One of the canvassers who are always lingering around the entrance was talking to a Gelson’s employee; I heard him say “…and then she threw eggs at me! Eggs! I know!” before I crossed the automatic doors. I almost turned around and went back out, but I always feel like I look like a shoplifter when I do that, and plus I didn’t want to come off as nosy, at least not right away. I was eager to be nosy upon my exit if the canvasser was still standing around.
Inside Gelson’s I chatted with my buddy Larry, a checker, someone whom I’ve subconsciously entrusted to keep me from getting robbed when I walk back to my car at night. Larry seems like he’d be great at discouraging villains from attacking me in the parking lot. I really like Larry. Anyway, I left, noting that if the canvasser was too aggressive (quick aside: there is a guy, a tall guy with a shaved head, who hangs out at the WeHo Whole Foods and occasionally the Silver Lake Gelson’s, who gets really in-your-face about his causes; I found out he’s not a canvasser, but a “protester” — the difference being, I think, that he sends himself out on these moral journeys as opposed to being affiliated with any organization. I think he’s probably giving the canvassers, who are just doing their job for The (Usually Liberal and Grassroots-Oriented) Man, a bad name. Canvassers aren’t up to anything sinister, it can just be annoying to tell them “no thanks” on the way into the store and have to, again, no-thank them on the way out.) I could probably shriek for Larry and he would save me.
Once outside, the canvasser, a guy who I’d seen before, stopped me. I began, “Hey, okay, look, before you even get into your cause can we talk about what happened with the eggs?” and he said, “Oh, sure. Ten minutes ago a woman, who’s complained about me before, even though I’m just trying to protect the environment — which, by the way—”
“Wait. The eggs.”
“Right, okay, so she comes up behind me and parks her car, and then comes up to me and smacks me with her hand. I start to yell, and she gets into her car and produces a carton of eggs, apparently.”
“My back was to her. I just heard someone coming into the store go, ‘Oh no, she’s egging you!’”
“Yeah, I thought she was punching me and I was kind of shielding myself but I guess she was throwing eggs at me.” He motioned to the ground, which had evidently been cleaned of egg and was now drying in the chilly evening air. “I got her license plate number. Or, I guess, somebody else did while she was egging me.”
“That was pretty stupid of her to leave her license plate in view,” I said. “She should have parked her car and come back to egg you, if she was going to egg you. Now you can sue her.” I looked at this guy and remembered the time when I’d been pebbled (the rock equivalent of egged) by kids while canvassing for RIPIRG. I told him so. “That was the last time I canvassed,” I said. “You must be pretty stoic.”
“I guess so. I’ve been doing this for a few years. Actually, this same woman rolled a bunch of shopping carts into me last week. She won’t quit.”
“You need to sue that woman,” I said with conviction, because I think she deserves to be sued. I live in Los Angeles. People are sued for stupider things than throwing eggs at a stranger. “What kind of car did she drive?”
“You’re kidding. And here you are, trying to raise money for the environment?”
“Yep. You’d think she’d be on our team.”
Larry strolled by to make sure things were kosher. I thought of telling him what had happened, but then realized I had no idea whether Larry found canvassers contemptible himself, if he was really annoyed going in and out of work and being asked for money to defeat the Meg Whitman campaign. I kept mum. I remember a conversation, the particulars of which escape me, about telemarketers. Do you know that some people find themselves absolutely livid when a person calls their home? “When someone interrupts my dinner,” said a friend, “I just want to kill them. I get so upset.” Why? I understand annoyance, irritation, and sometimes a curt response when someone calls and you think, “Oh, this is probably Sally calling to tell me that she has a raging party for us to attend tonight” and instead it’s someone conducting market research who just needs five minutes of your time. There’s a tiny fall: oh, it’s just somebody wanting money. You resent them for making you think that this might be a good-news call; you forget that it’s better that it’s a telemarketer and not a BAD NEWS call. If you had been worried, expecting that BAD NEWS call, you might find yourself relieved and pleasantly surprised that it was only a solicitation of your opinion or the LA Sheriffs Assoc. asking for $20 in return for which you will be given a sticker. Telemarketers reveal our own optimism about phone calls, which is nice; they also disappoint us, so we grow to hate them a little bit. If your dinner were interrupted by a ringing phone that, when answered, informed you that you had a cool job coming up tomorrow or that a publisher tracked down your number via Google after being astounded by your wit on your blog, you might never eat dinner at a table again. You would eat dinner off the receiver while depressing the button on the cradle with a greasy finger. Instead, you subconsciously entertain the possibility, and are weekly disappointed. It’s their fault.
Canvassers, however, don’t disguise themselves as good news. They don’t dress up as opportunity. They endure all sorts of angry glares and ignored hello’s and rainy weather and general disdain and still announce themselves as solicitors: “Hi, got a second for gay rights?” Canvassers don’t make much money (those ads on Craigslist? Those are imaginary figures of money that very few canvassers make. The ones who do make any kind of considerable income are the kind of people who always remind me of the Music Man and usually look like a young Kirk Cameron), their hearts are in the right place, and they go home at night to console themselves about their often terrible work days by reminding themselves that they’re saving the environment! They are saving lives by canvassing for gun control! They are protecting ducks and panthers and butterflies! There isn’t much that’s selfish about participating in grassroots movements, unless you count being benevolently smug about “doing the right thing.” What is a person thinking when they hit a canvasser with first their fist, and then some eggs? Especially if they’re a person who, presumably, is making their own effort to save the environment by driving a hybrid vehicle? If they agree with the cause, what on earth are they so angry about?
Grassroots movements are, for better or worse, more successful than you might think: the Tea Party began as a grassroots campaign, and now I actually feel frightened of it. Grassroots efforts were a huge part of the success of the Obama campaign, and let’s not forget about getting Betty White on SNL. Is our personal quiet, the lack of people asking us to involve ourselves financially or otherwise in their causes, so sacrosanct that we should actually allow ourselves to get mad at having it disrupted? I wonder if another scenario is more likely: a lonely woman is going into Gelson’s and mistakes a canvasser’s introductory “hello” as a hello without agenda; as with the ringing phone, she is hoping for good news, a friendly gesture, and instead realizes that she is being solicited. Her disappointment makes her furious; she thought, for a second, that there might be a connection. She wanted a personal exchange and she felt victimized. She hurls her organic cage-free items at a stranger, goes home, and realizes she’s now out of eggs. She has no dinner. She sits down on a sofa, covers herself with an environmentally-friendly bamboo throw, and waits for the phone to ring.
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